NATIVE Exclusive: Fireboy is ready for the next level of the long game

His sophomore album is well on the way

In an industry where debut albums such as Wande Coal’s Mushin 2 Mo Hits or Wizkid’s Superstar are considered modern classics, it would be disingenuous to leave out albums which came later on in the year such as Odunsi The Engine’s rare. or Fireboy’s Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps which were game-changers in their own unique way. The 24-year-old is amongst a new vanguard of Nigerian hitmakers, who are all reinventing the game and are playing by rules written by them, changing the status quo of what kind of music to expect these days.

One thing we don’t see enough of in the Afropop scene is an artist’s entire debut album resonating with anyone who is listening,  without needing any gimmicks or extra promotional efforts. This is Fireboy’s magic trick, and having seen Afropop experience these shifts and grow from infancy to the global export it is today, Fireboy decided the scene needed his own special edge, which resulted in his debut album.

After dominating the airwaves with “Jealous” for most of 2019, his debut album ‘Laughter Tears and Goosebumps’ came right at the end to seal his position in our hearts (and ears). You might think that it took “Jealous” popping off for him to have his time, but what we’re seeing today has been 12 years in the making. 12 years of him realising testing the waters, deciding what he wants and slowing down to just do what comes naturally – to be himself. According to Fireboy,

Now having given us a solid introduction to what he has to offer, Fireboy is playing the long game and he’s preparing for the next level. Two weeks ago, he released his first single of the year, “New York City Girl”, and is clearing the space for the release of his sophomore album. So while we wait for the project to be ready and perhaps any new teasers, we caught up with the singer about his debut album his creative process, relationship with Olamide and more.

NATIVE: So, obviously there’s a lot going on around the world. From racism to the way women are being treated here in Nigeria. Do you feel the need, as an artist, to say something about everything that’s going on in the world at the moment?

Fireboy: Ahhm to be honest, I think doing is more than saying, but saying is important in the aspect of desensitising people and using your platform to educate people. Because most Nigerians, that’s just the problem [we’re] not well-educated on those kinds of thing. But the most important thing is doing – I don’t like to talk too much, to be honest. And I think, most of my fans have noticed that I don’t really tweet much, I don’t post much, I just like to sit back and just do my thing. But when you are given a platform like this, you have to do something. So, I try my best to just make sure I do something to help, or tweet to sensitise some people and I just leave it there. I don’t say too much, I don’t have [share] too many opinions on things or issues or topics and when I need to act, like maybe make a donation to the cost, things like that, that’s my thing. I feel like doing is very important.

NATIVE: So what have you been up to during lockdown? You must miss performing right now, how does that feel?

Fireboy: Well, most importantly I’ve just been making music and working on myself more – that’s basically what I’ve been doing. It’s crazy man. At first I was actually grateful for the break, ’cause I was reaching the point I was almost breaking down, like ‘oh my God I need some time to rest’. But after like a week or two I started feeling it. I miss the stage I miss the crowd I miss the energy, I actually miss the stress. I can’t even believe I’m saying this, I actually miss the stress of travelling. But it’s all good, things will more or less go back to normal.

NATIVE: Is your live performance something you’ve been deliberately working on? Do you want to make sure your performances are at the right level?

Fireboy: I respect that performance is a thing, being good at it is actually a thing I won’t lie. I feel like for some people, it’s in-born sha, but I feel like mostly it’s something you have to grow into and work hard at as well. I don’t want to be just seen as an artist, I want to be seen as a full complete musician and being a full musician is being able to perform. With every performance, I actually learn. I learn a thing or two  I go on YouTube and actually search my favourite performance and I see like the scenes and stuff so I learn from that, but it’s not easy men.

NATIVE: Your debut project, LGT was a big fan favourite last year. What was your thought process when making the album?

Fireboy: Like I said earlier, I just want to make a difference. Like I knew that I had a lot to prove. I knew that I had to do it differently if I wanted to attain that, y’know that musician status. I didn’t just want to be seen as the random Nigerian artist that just blew up and ‘oh okay… just another guy, another random guy who blew up’. I wanted to be seen in a different light. I just thought ‘ok, how do you do it? Uhh, you’ve been dropping singles, ok fine. You had a breakout single, a follow-up single, and everybody around you is dropping EPs, so like… how do you want to make a difference? How do you want to stand out?’ [I] said, ‘you know what? I feel like I can do it.’ And yes, I did it. I’m glad it paid off.

NATIVE: It definitely stood out with so many diverse sounds across the board. Is that something you set out to do with your producers? Do you work with one producer who knows what to do when it comes to your music, or you have many different people you work with?

Fireboy: Uhh, I’m not really like that. I’m used to recording alone, working alone, but I have a few really talented producers that I work with mainly. Number one is Pheelz, the in-house producer at YBNL– that’s family. Pheelz is a genius. I enjoy working with him, we have chemistry. I also have close friends like Crako Mallo and P Prang. I think it’s just limited to that, just that limited space of producers. Mostly, just work with talented producers, they don’t have to be big or well-known.

And the vibe, the fact that the whole album was considered different genres was just mainly because I knew it was going to be just me – I had no plans of featuring anybody on that album. So I felt, you can’t put out thirteen songs without featuring anybody and bore these people out. You have to give them different vibes y’know. I knew that I was compiling an album and I knew that they all had to be different vibes, like it just made sense. If you’re gonna be entertaining people through thirteen songs you have to give them different vibes. It was just very deliberate- I think that was the only deliberate thing in the whole project: the fact that I knew that they had to be different. That’s the only deliberate act. The rest was just me just making music.

NATIVE: What would you say is like the most authentic Fireboy sound? Like, if an alien dropped into earth today and you had to play them one Fireboy song, what song would you play them?

Fireboy: Ahh, that’s a tough question man! That’s tough, very tough. I think I’d play them “King”,  not because it defines my sound per se, but I feel like it’s one of my favourite songs – it’s like my top 2 out of my favourite songs. Because I wrote that song at the lowest point of my life. It was the song that I wrote, recorded, mixed myself, so I feel like there’s a really huge part of me in that song.

But in terms of my sound, I don’t know my sound, I just- I’m an afrobeats artist, but if you listen closely, you’ll realise I’m not the regular afrobeats. You might not want to really call it afrobeats like that, you might want to say ok, ‘afro RnB… soul’… So, it’s just like, more like a fusion of sounds. So, I don’t know sha. It’s afrobeats, but it’s not the regular afrobeats. So, it’s afrobeats but with more effort on lyricism, more effort on soul, it’s not just about the vibes or the instruments or the beats.

NATIVE: Well in that sense, we’re seeing more and more especially with the new generation of big stars now, who you want to dance but you also want to sit at home and listen to the music, at the end of the day. So out of this new class who are you listening to and championing?

Fireboy: To be honest, I fuck with all of them man. I’m not being diplomatic over here, I’m just being honest. I fuck with every single one of them. This generation is so blessed. Like, everyone is so talented. I love Rema, I love Joeboy, I love Oxlade – Oxlade is a close friend, we’ve been through a lot together so I’m familiar with his sound – um Oxlade, Omah Lay – everyone is doing great. The Alté scene too are doing great: Santi, Odunsi, Lady Donli, everybody. Everybody is doing great, I listen to everybody. When they have stuff out, I listen. The one I like, I like. The one I don’t like ‘okay, it’s all good’.

NATIVE: Fair, one thing about our generation is that there’s more unity across the different scene.

Fireboy: Yeah, yeah. We’ve seen how unity has made Africa achieve a lot, in a global sense, so we’re trying to achieve that – not that we came together consciously, I think it’s like an unconscious thing. An unconscious movement amongst all of us that you know what, ‘don’t let us fuck this up. Let’s just make music, change this generation and finish off what our big mummies and big daddies started’

NATIVE: So obviously a big part of your come up has been working with Olamide and YBNL. Your sound is very different to his and what we associate to the label,  how do you see that? How has he been a mentor for you?

Fireboy: Olamide is not just a rapper, he’s not just an artist, he’s a full musician. Like he understands the art and the business side of it, so that taught me a lot. He’s a full-time businessman when he is in his element, so that’s really helped me. He made it clear to me right from the jump that ‘you know what, I’m not just you CEO, I’m not just like a father figure, I’m not just a big brother, I’m also your business partner’.

He just made me feel so comfortable, he gave me a very beautiful atmosphere, so he’s really helped. Sometimes he just likes to be in the background – I think he knows that sometimes, his presence is just enough. And sometimes, it’s just words of reassurance, maybe when I’m doubting my work – cause I do that a lot, I’m a very big critic of my work – so, when he senses that the doubt is starting to creep in, he just gives me a few words of reassurance. I really ride off his confidence, and that has helped me so many times in the past and is still helping me right now.

NATIVE: On a personal level, how have things been for you? Your life must have changed so quickly since your debut album dropped, how have you handled that success? 

Fireboy: LTG changed my life, man. It was just- before it was just ‘Fireboy, Fireboy, oh bla bla oh now it’s “Jealous” ok ok’, but – changed everything, I’ve always been able to keep my head down, thanks to the mentorship of Olamide, I learned from him and followed his footsteps, even when he thinks I’m not watching. I keep my head down, I can’t like the fame- cos fame is a very fucked up spirit, it really fucks you up if you let it. So, I’ve just been keeping my head down, making more music. I’ve always been an introvert, laid-back, I’m almost a recluse [laughs].

I think I am a recluse, well not really but, you know, so it has really helped. I keep my family close, the few friends I have, keep them close. I don’t really go out much, except I’m going for shows of course. So, I feel like keeping to myself has helped me cause I’ve not been really exposed to too much. I’ve not been exposed to too much negative energy outside. I feel like that’s really helped me keep a low profile.

NATIVE: So I guess now looking forward, how far into your sophomore album are you?

Fireboy: To be honest, I think I’m done. I think it’s ready. It’s just the perfectionist side of me that’s still… y’know. I feel like I’m done… but things could change. I really need… I need this to be… I need this album to seal it. I don’t know if [that] makes sense but I need it to be perfect. Near perfect if I can.

NATIVE: And your latest single, “New York City Girl”, is it going to be on the album or just a loose track?

Fireboy: Yeah, it’s a brand-new song. I owe the fans that much, y’know, new stuff. It’s been six months since the last drop. So, brand new. it’s gonna be on the album. But, now it’s just a single and then we’ll see how it goes from there.

Featured image credits/Niyi Okeowo